1999: A special place, a special family … Toklat at 50 | AspenTimes.com

1999: A special place, a special family … Toklat at 50

In celebrating the 125th anniversary of The Aspen Times, we are printing a story or two from each year the newspaper has existed – 125 historical selections in 125 days. This series is in conjunction with the Aspen Historical Society. A special place, a special family … Toklat at 50Aspen seems almost awash in 50th anniversaries these days.There’s the Aspen Skiing Company. The Aspen Music Festival. The Aspen Institute.And, amid all these big names and properly proud pronouncements, there’s another 50th, a quieter 50th, that is very much worth celebrating.This year is the 50th anniversary of an Aspen institution that combines so much of what makes Aspen the place it is. There’s skiing and art, character and ideas, personality and community. There’s a love for the mountains and a fierce stewardship of a fragile valley.And, perhaps above all, there’s a quality that many of Aspen’s other institutions have failed to recognize: family.This is the 50th anniversary of the summer that Stuart and Isabel Mace built Toklat – their home and lodge and restaurant and kennel and art gallery high in the Castle Creek Valley.And in the half-century since then, the Maces have seen birth and death, success and failure and, through it all, two constants: One is change and the other, again above all, is family.”Life at Toklat has allowed us to mature and to raise a family in tune with the rhythms and responses that surround us in this glorious alpine valley we call home,” wrote Stuart Mace. “We do not need to seek immortality. It is a gift we all receive. We only mark it as we can control our massive egos and reach a peace with the whole of our family.” Whether as a lodge, dogsled touring operation, restaurant, gallery or home base for a fierce stewardship of the Castle Creek Valley, Toklat has meant different things to the thousands who have crossed its threshold over the past half-century.One constant, however, has always been the uncompromising way the Mace family lives and works at Toklat.”They’re one of the most remarkable families I’ve ever known,” said Dick Simmons, star of “Sgt. Preston of the Yukon,” which was filmed in Ashcroft in the 1950s, featuring the Maces’ dogsled teams and the gorgeous mountain background. “It’s been a great inspiration to know the Maces, and I believe anyone who has gotten to know the family really well must feel the same way.”Putting in the first stakeNot many people came to Aspen on a personal invitation from Walter Paepcke – as a “first-rater” worthy of founding-father status. Stuart Mace not only received such an invitation, he turned it down. Following his “intuitive feeling” that Mace was the best at what he did, Paepcke wrote a letter urging Stuart to relocate his dogsled touring operation from Boulder to Aspen.”We have followed a strict policy in the development of Aspen to encourage only those whom we consider tops in their line,” wrote Paepcke about the company the Maces would be keeping if they accepted his invitation to live and work at the Four Seasons Club.But Paepcke didn’t get what he wanted – not quite, because Stuart and Isabel had already fallen in love with the area surrounding the ghost town of Ashcroft in the Castle Creek Valley.They struck a deal with Ted Ryan, who owned about a thousand acres up Castle Creek. The trade was a lifetime lease on 2.7 acres in exchange for their stewardship of a valley that had been stripped clean by overgrazing.So in 1949, the Maces, with two kids in tow and one on the way, rolled up their sleeves and got to work. The fruit of their labors was the lodge they named Toklat, the Eskimo word for a glacial mountain valley.Mace and his family built Toklat out of recycled materials, including stone from the old school, logs from an old coal mine and marble left behind at the closed quarries.At the beginning, Toklat served as a lodge, the Mace family home, and headquarters for the new stewards of the Castle Creek Valley.Also making their home at Toklat were 20 malamutes, brought from Boulder, the hearts and souls of the Maces’ dogsled tours. Carried over from his World War II days, Stuart could no more have left the huskies behind than one of his children.A conscientious objector who refused to carry a gun, Stuart served in the war by training sled dogs who would help rescue wounded soldiers in alpine conditions.For Stuart the mountains, valley and forests of Castle Creek were the ideal backdrop to raise the next generation of Maces.”I wanted to give my kids a place to build their mind, body, imagination, and artistic sense,” said Mace in an episode of “Bill Moyers’ Journal,” an acclaimed public-television series. “You can’t appreciate your fellow man, until you appreciate nature; without that you can’t feel any wholeness.”Stuart and Isabel Mace opened Toklat as a lodge an dogsled touring operation. But tucked away in the recesses of the Castle Creek Valley, their financial survival depended on sensing when it was time to try a new approach.So every decade or so, Stuart and Isabel, with the help of however many of their five children were old enough to lend a hand, devised a new way to tempt people to make the trip out to Ashcroft.”This is our home and place of business and always has been.” said Lynne Mace, the only daughter among the five Mace children, who now manages Toklat the gallery. “‘It’s not about commerce, it’s about people.” (Aug. 14-15)New Sundeck almost readyThe new, $14 million Sundeck Restaurant on Aspen Mountain is expected to be open in time for Christmas.The public cafeteria and sit-down restaurant are scheduled to open Monday, Dec. 20, while the private Aspen Mountain Club is scheduled for a March opening.Construction workers are scrambling around the clock to complete the public portion in time for a Dec. 18 open house that will raise funds for the Aspen Valley Ski Club. Some workers have been putting in long days and sleeping at the mountaintop ski patrol shack to eliminate the lengthy commute. The Sundeck’s main floor, which includes the bulk of the public and private rooms, is 14,300 square feet. (Dec. 11-12)Cell-phone ban tabledA proposal to ban the use of cell phones while driving in Aspen was shelved for five months in favor of an education campaign aimed at minimizing the practice. The 3-2 vote to table the ordinance came after nearly two hours of debate among City Council members, Aspen Police Chief Tom Stephenson, and an audience of people who were mostly opposed to the ordinance (although at least four of those who spoke against it are in the business of selling cell phones).Assistant City Attorney David Hoefer said studies have shown that cell-phone use while driving increases the risk of an accident.But others in the room took the opposite view, citing studies that show no correlation between cell-phone use by drivers and accidents involving those drivers.Chief Stephenson argued against the proposed ban, noting that a poll of his officers showed no indication of more accidents involving cell phones, despite an “exponential increase in cell-phone use” by drivers. (Dec. 18-19)